your nan visiting Florida once a year is not what’s killing the planet
July 29, 2022 6:07 PM   Subscribe

1% of people cause a stunning 50% of global aviation emissions. There is clear inequality in terms of emissions between nations, but also vast inequality within Western nations in terms of who’s causing the climate crisis. Take the United States – the biggest contributor to aviation pollution on the planet. Whereas commercial US flights remain 13% below pre-pandemic levels, private aviation traffic is actually higher – 15% higher, to be exact. This means that while ordinary people are actually flying less than before the pandemic, the richest are flying more. posted by spamandkimchi (64 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
So, what can I actionably do about this, other than molotov cocktails?

I really want to do something, but I have no idea what to do about this kind of thing.
posted by liminal_shadows at 7:06 PM on July 29 [18 favorites]

I really see no reason you should feel you have to discard alternatives, liminal.
posted by The Monster at the End of this Thread at 7:17 PM on July 29 [39 favorites]

instead of a "bat signal" there needs to be a "children of kali" signal.
posted by lalochezia at 7:32 PM on July 29 [12 favorites]

In Toronto news this week, Drake is seeing criticism for taking his private plane in trips between Toronto and Hamilton three times last month. Driving between the two cities is typically an hour or so in travel time; the flights ranged from 14 to 18 minutes.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:37 PM on July 29 [12 favorites]

it does kind of feel like we as a global people must rise up at some point against the 1% and remind them they're only human
posted by kokaku at 7:37 PM on July 29 [33 favorites]

I believe Drake defended himself by saying the planes were mostly empty.

Truly, we live in the stupidest time ever.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 7:38 PM on July 29 [29 favorites]

I don't know but I've sure wondered many times over the years, just exactly how much fuel is burned every time a bomber flies off a US carrier to drop its load of love onto whichever brown people are on the schedule this week. And when they come back, and land on that carrier, there are bombs loaded right back onto them, and off they go, more love to be distributed, likely onto people who have oil which we can steal if we can only wrap the whole endeavor in the flag just right.
posted by dancestoblue at 7:41 PM on July 29 [12 favorites]

um, just exactly how much fuel is burned as a percentage, military vs civilian....
posted by dancestoblue at 7:46 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]

I'm glad to see aviation emissions getting some more attention, but I do wonder how much this reflects the fact that it makes the rest of us feel better about our own flying in comparison (when in fact almost all global aviation emissions are due to 10% of the world's population). That's not to say we should let the rich off the hook (in fact we should just ban private jets).

High speed rail can't come fast enough.

I don't know but I've sure wondered many times over the years, just exactly how much fuel is burned every time a bomber flies off a US carrier

The US military's carbon emissions are about the same as the entire country of Portugal or Peru.
posted by ssg at 7:54 PM on July 29 [24 favorites]

I'm pretty sure I would not want Elon Musk or any other such parasite on board a commercial airliner with me. That self-aggrandizing funboy would undoubtedly show up late to board, but will have worked some magic with the airline to get the plane to wait for him. His security crew (which would be taking up most of the rest of the first class cabin) would be negligent if they didn't do a sweep of the whole airplane inside and out, baggage compartment and all, before takeoff, adding even more delay for myself and all the other actual human beings on board. And from the second his seat was booked and paid for and the info could get out that he's on UA1234 , why wouldn't someone consider targeting the flight for hijacking or ransom, either of which would make the flight entirely unbearable.

I'd rather just put him in a series of tubes underground, tell him to walk to his destination, and hope he'd get .... bored to death.

All joking aside, it's obscene, and I see the emissions inequity described in the article as merely yet another symptom of a bigger problem: the money's not going to the people who actually do the work and make it flow, it's going to people who're good at telling a fantastic story -- to themselves and everyone else -- about how they're so much better and smarter and therefore deserve all of it. It will never be otherwise until institutional changes make them pay for the privelege to siphon from society's gas tank. I don't know but I assume the tax code allows them to write off a significant portion of the costs to own, operate and maintain their own airborne trophies-to-themselves. Fuck the hell right out of that. Let them write off building a library, a wing of a school, a water treatment facility, a railway line. But these fucking toys of the parasite class should hurt to own.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 8:04 PM on July 29 [11 favorites]

How do they assign responsibility for intercontinental flight? US if United, China if Air China?

The commercial data might be out of date. During the worst of covid, many passenger seats went to boxes and such.

just exactly how much fuel is burned as a percentage, military vs civilian....

Here are some statistics. The link finds private use a small sliver, but, you know - statistics.

Private Jet Use Shows Why We Must Abolish Billionaires

Well, Bezos did try to go wind power, but there were objections.
posted by BWA at 8:06 PM on July 29

It's not your nan going to Florida that's killing the planet, but really, it isn't private jets or serial air travel either. Aviation is about 2% of man made by greenhouse gas emissions, less than a sixth of what road transport is responsible for. Transport is only about fifth altogether, when there bulk of that is passenger cars. Industry, business, and fossil fuel energy are what's killing the planet. Aviation is a rounding error as long as we carry on with the rest.
posted by Dysk at 9:01 PM on July 29 [35 favorites]

It's not your nan going to Florida that's killing the planet, but really, it isn't private jets or serial air travel either

yep. doing things in your personal life might help you psychologically, but it's not going to matter in terms of climate. unless you are a US senator, energy ceo or high level consultant or some such goober, your personal choices will have no impact on this problem, except on how they make you feel about yourself.
posted by wibari at 9:20 PM on July 29 [12 favorites]

For context, aviation accounts for approximately 2% (or 3.5% if you consider other heating contributions in carbon-equivalent units) of total CO2 emissions. So if the private jets apparently accounting for 50% of aviation emissions were somehow banned tomorrow, it would (in theory) cut total CO2 emissions by 1%. Which is significant! But we're also not talking about the most significant green house gas emissions, either. Certainly, the injustice of such a tiny fraction of the population accounting for such a disproportionate amount of carbon emission is worth discussing. But the ultimate cause of global warming is extraction of fossil carbon: once it's out of the ground, it's going to end up in the atmosphere one way or another.

Discussing the various sources of greenhouse gas emissions is still useful, of course, to help contextualize how our economies and societies actually apportion what should be a limited resource. Here's an interesting source breaking down emissions by sector. Note, for example, that while aviation accounts for 2% of emissions, road transport accounts for 12%, while rail and shipping together account for another 2%. Reducing emissions caused by aviation is a worthy goal, but even a 20% reduction in the amount of emissions caused by road transport, either by reducing trips or by converting cars and trucks to electric or hybrid vehicles, would do more than eliminating all air travel completely.

And if we want to focus on emissions caused by luxuries, livestock account for nearly 6% of emissions, three times that of the aviation sector entirely. If you really want to worry about your personal impact on carbon emissions, go vegetarian if you're not already. Or if you can't go vegetarian, reduce your meat consumption. Meat consumption, as a proportion of total diet, is ridiculously high in wealthy nations, and represents a disproportionate environmental impact not entirely dissimilar to that which we are (justifiably!) outraged at the wealthy for creating with their private jets. If everyone replaced just a third of the meat in their diet with plant-based foods, that would also have as great an impact as eliminating air travel entirely.

But again, focusing on emissions is kind of focusing on the problem at too late a stage. What we should do is place hard limits on extraction of fossil carbon, and ration what is still extracted to keep the obscenely rich from flying their private jets while the poor have to worry about whether they can heat their homes until we transition away from fossil fuel use entirely. Pointing out the absurdly wasteful lifestyles of the super-rich through the lens of climate change is a good thing to do, but let's use the observation as a jumping off point for understanding how much of our planet's finite resources they squander while letting millions starve, rather than focusing only on wasteful air travel as the problem.
posted by biogeo at 9:28 PM on July 29 [52 favorites]

Even if you could somehow magically coordinate everybody's personal choices, everyone choosing the bus or a bike or walking over a car would make collectively, many times the impact that ceasing all aviation, both for personal transport and shipping, would.

Whether you're trying to get people to do endogenous behaviour change, or you're looking at regulation, legislation, and policy, it seems weird to put so much focus on something that is so small a part of the problem.

If you'll forgive a car analogy: It's like trying to improve the fuel efficiency of an old diesel pickup by tinkering with the aerodynamics - sure, it will help a little, but you could go so much further by looking at the bigger problems, like the drivetrain.
posted by Dysk at 9:29 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]

It's not a false choice. If we're using magic, everyone can collectively decide to bus/bike/walk/etc AND not to fly to Florida every year AND not to use personal airplanes ever AND not to buy into consumerism AND so on AND so forth. We can have it all.
posted by aniola at 10:17 PM on July 29 [4 favorites]

The article gives horrible examples: the prime minister of England? two of the richest and most powerful men in the world?

I'd rather they take private planes as I don't want to be stuck behind Elon Musk's entourage at the Delta Terminal. The real problem is the small business owner who has a 6 seater they take down to their lake house (or is it?) as that's much more common. This feels like a distraction but it is a much harder article tracking down anonymous upper-middle class families and seeing what their carbon footprint is.
posted by geoff. at 10:28 PM on July 29

Well, let's recall Kennedy Steve's name for private jets... "The one-percenters".

(Those of you who listen to ATC or watch those ATC incident videos should have heard of Kennedy Steve, who's retired)
posted by kschang at 10:28 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]

Quit pretending like there is anything any of you could possibly do.

This is outside your scope, outside your power, outside your experience. You are not more or less pure, relative to each other.

There is nothing you can do. There is nothing anyone reading any of this can do; you simply lack the effectiveness required, so please stop being angry with each other.

Nothing any of you can do will matter in the least unless you can all do it together, so saddle up, get your gear, and get moving.
posted by aramaic at 10:37 PM on July 29 [6 favorites]

There is nothing you can do.

Nonsense. You can vote, you can write your representatives, you can protest, you can demonstrate, you can run for office, you can talk to your neighbors, you can politely disagree instead of backing down when your cab driver repeats a bullshit climate denial talking point he heard on the radio, you can discuss the facts with like-minded people on the Internet to help everyone be more informed and aware, you can write an op-ed, you can blog, you can make TikTok videos, you can offer to run a program for your local schools, you can show up to your city council meetings to advocate for bike lanes and against expanding the road network, you can make sure your retirement funds are invested in renewable energy instead of fossil fuels, you can talk to wealthier people in your social circle about the need for them to be ready to make sacrifices for the rest of us. Worrying about your own carbon footprint isn't going to solve the climate crisis, but getting us all to think about our collective impact on the environment, and recognize that the only way forward is a fundamental restructuring of our society, is a key part of the solution.

The number of things you can do is endless. Some of them are more effective than others, but find some things that work for you, and remain open to changing your approach as better information becomes available.
posted by biogeo at 12:06 AM on July 30 [39 favorites]

It's not a false choice. If we're using magic

Thing is, we aren't using magic, and we need to convince people, change laws and regulations, and take the financial hit. We might need to do all the mitigations eventually, but we aren't going to do them all at once if we're realistic. So maybe starting with something that'll actually make a difference is more sensible, and once the current worst offenders are gone, aviation will naturally start to look like much more of a priority.
posted by Dysk at 1:23 AM on July 30 [4 favorites]

For those who want to learn more about the most effective political actions, things we actually can do, and ways to not be hopeless about the climate, Rebecca Solnit and her allies have started a Facebook group called Not Too Late that has multiple daily news posts. Additionally, I've previously recommended here on Metafilter the similar project of two climate scientists, Ayana Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson, All We Can Save.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:47 AM on July 30 [7 favorites]

I teach this stuff every day, and have been yelling about it for 20 years, so it's really not about "feel better about yourself" to me. It's about educating the public about the actions needed to move forward and about reason to do things instead of giving in to despair and not doing anything, which actually enables the right wing agenda of global destruction for profits.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:46 AM on July 30 [26 favorites]

Can we eat the rich and their planes?

In my next incarnation can I come back as the first freshly mutated bacterium that can devour plastic, crypto, rich people, and private jets and metabolize them into public libraries?

Pretty please?
posted by mmcg at 5:51 AM on July 30 [6 favorites]

> All those things will make you feel better about yourself, sure

Is your counterproductive despair making you feel so much better that you really want to spread it around? Will you really feel better if you convince us to stop trying?
posted by thoroughburro at 5:52 AM on July 30 [8 favorites]

The real problem is the small business owner who has a 6 seater they take down to their lake house (or is it?) as that's much more common.
Eh, from what I see of the GA world, this isn't that common. 6-seaters aren't super common, and I don't see many families jetting around. The overwhelming majority of GA traffic seems to be 2/4-seaters running on 1950s engine technology (which is a separate issue that the industry really needs to reckon with soon).

For comparison, a small 4-seat plane burns a bit more than twice as much fuel per hour as a SUV driving on the highway. A 6-seater burns 4-5x as much fuel as that SUV (but both can also cover more distance during that time). Small airplanes burn more fuel than cars, but it's probably less than you'd think.

The environmental cost of occasionally using a small airplane (while still quite high) is dwarfed by the environmental cost of having a big house in the suburbs and a long car commute (which is considered by many to be quite normal).

(Now, if you want to use environmental issues to grind an axe about wealth inequality, let's talk about boats. Power boats burn an absolutely terrifying amount of fuel, and tend to be used way more frequently. Somehow, they're considered to be a "middle-class" thing in many parts of the country).
posted by schmod at 6:02 AM on July 30 [11 favorites]

So, I understand that my personal choices are not going to move the needle on climate, other than choices like organizing or committing acts of ecoterrorism. But it is important to me to live in line with my values, and that includes living in such a way that the planet could continue to support human life if everyone lived with a similar climate impact to mine. I don't drive a car, eat meat quite rarely, live mostly in high-density apartments mostly with heat pumps, etc, but I do fly a lot, and my impression is that everyone flying long distances multiple times a year is not compatible with continuing to have a habitable planet (especially given that many other emissions of mine could be net-zero given greener energy infrastructure, but technology is not there yet for flights with anything other than jet fuel).

I've given this a lot of thought, because I think in an ideal world I might like to travel somewhat frequently between the USA and Taiwan, and I also want to visit my friends in Europe sometimes, but it just seems really hard to justify trans-atlantic and trans-pacific flights, and the pandemic seems to have basically killed passenger travel on cargo ships (which is essentially net-zero on the margin already, at the cost of being much more expensive and longer than a flight).

It seems like people here are saying I shouldn't worry about it, but I don't think that's true? I don't have a good intuitive understanding of what a 90th or 99th percentile frequent flyer is, so it feels really hard to put these numbers into context.

I understand that I'm in a position of luxury to be able to fly as frequently as I do, but I do sort of worry that telling people not to worry about the impact of their flights will result in people whose primary impact is their flights (for instance, a lot of tech workers who live in urban areas with transit/bike infrastructure, but fly a lot for conferences/etc) thinking that they don't need to be thinking about that, which seems incorrect to me.

Putting the numbers in terms of current emissions is reasonable, but also sort of seems like the wrong framing — I don't want to know what percentage of total emissions passenger aviation is, I want to know what percentage of a reasonable target level of emissions it is. But I suspect that's pretty close to ∞, so....

Even when we eat the rich, I don't think the current typical USAmerican lifestyle is compatible with a livable planet, and I think that looking at one's personal impact can be a good way to remind yourself that this is important, even if it is completely insufficient to actually fix things.
posted by wesleyac at 6:13 AM on July 30 [15 favorites]

But it is important to me to live in line with my values, and that includes living in such a way that the planet could continue to support human life if everyone lived with a similar climate impact to mine.

But doesn't this mean that we all shouldn't be on a computer or a phone? I always wonder.
posted by tiny frying pan at 6:43 AM on July 30 [2 favorites]

Like, this article says "1% of people cause 50% of aviation emissions" and then talks about billionaires, but the vast vast majority of the 1% of wealth are not billionaires, not even close.

I was going to say, if you stop driving and put the money you save into flying instead, that seems bad, but I actually looked at it and it turns out cars are really really bad. Like, a figure I got for a average car is 170g/km, which at the 2022 USA average miles driven per driver (13,476) is 3,686kg/year. A NYC to SF round-trip flight is around 277 kg one-way. Even my SF to Taipei flight is "just" 685 kg, which I think means even in the years I've flown the most, I'm still under the emissions of a average USAmerican driver.

Like I said, this doesn't justify my trips — comparing myself to the average USAmerican driver isn't a reasonable target, IMO. But it does put into sharper focus just how bad cars are.
posted by wesleyac at 6:43 AM on July 30 [3 favorites]

But doesn't this mean that we all shouldn't be on a computer or a phone? I always wonder.
Energy usage of computers and phones are tiny. You can extremely easily run your phone with a fairly cheap backpacking solar panel if you want, and like a single rooftop solar panel is more than enough to run a computer (unless you live in a shady place, in which case replace solar with some other renewable).

The mining of rare earth metals has some pretty horrific impacts on the environment, and computer manufacture isn't great, but a random source online claims ~300-500kg emissions for the manufacture + shipping of a new laptop. That doesn't include a lot of stuff, so I sort of don't trust it, but I think it's possible to use computers at least in a climate conscious way — using a 5 year old computer is pretty much fine (my current laptop is approaching that age), and I know people who use computers for ~8-10 years pretty regularly. That requires getting computers that are repairable, which is harder and harder these days, but is something I make sure to do. You can also easily find repairable computers in dumpsters (I got a handful of laptops this way when I was young), which is pretty great from a environmental perspective.

Phones could be the same way, but software updates usually only last for 3-4 years in the best case (Apple is significantly better than Google at this), and I think running a non-updated phone is unreasonable from a security perspective if you can at all avoid it. There are some open-source projects to provide support for longer for some Android phones, but to be honest, it's pretty bleak. Applying pressure to Google to do security updates for Android phones for longer could actually have a fairly significant climate impact, I think, although I don't know what the odds of success there are.

(I know more about the server side of this than the consumer side, tbh, but I won't write about that here other than to say that the vast majority of calculations I've seen about this are obviously wrong, and if you want to have a significant climate impact there the thing to focus on is destroying cryptocurrency and machine learning)
posted by wesleyac at 7:01 AM on July 30 [3 favorites]

It’s really hard to do full life embodied energy calculations. That’s another reason to work for a cap/auction/rebate-per-capita fossil fuel economy. Doesn’t matter if you and I have wildly different preferences if we’ve each paid for them out of our carbon UBI.
posted by clew at 7:26 AM on July 30 [4 favorites]

your nan visiting Florida once a year is not what’s killing the planet

Complicating all this, the business- and premium-class users of commercial flights are to a great extent subsidizing the ticket costs of economy travellers like granny. Reducing the number of such high-value users would make the economy tickets less affordable, and more grans would stay home.

I believe that travel can be a net positive if it helps broaden someone's perspective, so I don't know if curtailing most personal travel is a good goal.

Like others, I think there are much greater gains to be made by reducing the North American addiction to personal vehicles.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:47 AM on July 30

So the solution to this... is to vote out capitalism before the sun devours us all within the next 20 or so years?
posted by Selena777 at 7:49 AM on July 30 [1 favorite]

Complicating all this, the business- and premium-class users of commercial flights are to a great extent subsidizing the ticket costs of economy travellers like granny.

This is not true. How would all-economy discount airlines be able to exist if this were the case?
posted by ssg at 8:13 AM on July 30 [3 favorites]

Small airplanes burn more fuel than cars, but it's probably less than you'd think.

And also remember that flying is a more direct route. e.g., Minneapolis to Denver is 840 miles by highway, 680 miles by air.
posted by nathan_teske at 8:18 AM on July 30

I think a lot of people here are arguing against the false solution of individual consumer action and for the absolutely necessary solution of collective political action, but like wesleyac and hydropsyche, I'm trying to put my values into daily practice and recognizing that traipsing along as an average 21st century North American is fundamentally problematic. Cutting out beef, ditching conference travel or composting food waste with worms doesn't absolve me from systemic action to change systems, but individual actions are also emotionally meaningful and, in some cases, additive.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:29 AM on July 30 [10 favorites]

It's time for a scientific study to determine how all of this private jet travel affects the flavor of their flesh.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:37 AM on July 30 [4 favorites]

How would all-economy discount airlines be able to exist if this were the case?

Perhaps they meant first class mail.
posted by pwnguin at 9:22 AM on July 30

Further note on general aviation aircraft, a whole bunch of those planes are running on LEADED fuel. Yup, that stuff you thought was banned. In eastern San Jose, there is a GA airport in the middle of a residential area. An area where children have high amounts of lead in their systems. They are talking about shutting it down, but meanwhile those planes are still dumping lead on children.
posted by njohnson23 at 9:25 AM on July 30 [5 favorites]

If you (like the rest of us) are stuck in a capitalist hell-scape you need to ask yourself the following questions about your carbon emission...who profits when you emit. When you burn that gallon of gas, who makes money, when you heat your home, who makes money, when you fly on that plane who makes money?

If you have some MAGA good old boy rolling coal in a giant truck, and a vegan cyclist CEO of a oil and gas company, who is responsible for more emissions? That CEO spends every week maximizing oil and gas burning for profit, while that good old boy would probably ride around in a giant electric truck if given the chance (or even take public transport if it was on offer).

The problem is not the oil and gas per say, but the drive to always maximize profits. If the gas and oil companies were run to only supply what we needed, and reduced production as we increased renewables, it would be at least tenable.

The answer to "what do we do" is nationalize these industries (like we did with the TVA), and then ramp them down in a controlled just way.

I would suggest you read "Climate change as class war" by Matthew Huber for a more in-depth plan for strategic labor radicalization in specific industry as a way to leverage production stoppage to gain climate wins (and labor wins).
posted by stilgar at 9:33 AM on July 30 [9 favorites]

How would all-economy discount airlines be able to exist if this were the case?

Well, in fact, many are not able to exist. It's a very precarious market niche.
posted by Artful Codger at 1:15 PM on July 30 [4 favorites]

A CEO in my area recently crashed their private plane on the way from Michigan to Florida. Others mourned. I did not.
posted by MaritaCov at 4:06 PM on July 30

You mean "Chris Darnell Dies After Crashing In His 350 MPH Jet-Engine Propelled Truck At Airshow?"
posted by clavdivs at 4:49 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]

ooo, my current rage at greedy personal jet owners:
in this narrow MT mtn valley after years of the project being blocked by concerned citizens, the powers that be (those who own the govt here) finally got the local airport runway extension built last summer. On the pretext it was needed to accommodate the larger planes for forest fire-fighting .
Now it's many polluting noise makers doing fing u-turns over my rural suburban homestead as they bank to fly in or out of here. Turns out it is being used a lot by Costner and his cowboy-porn making crew as they zip in and out for weekends home or pizza.
posted by Mesaverdian at 1:05 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]

If you have some MAGA good old boy rolling coal in a giant truck, and a vegan cyclist CEO of a oil and gas company
Okay, but that's an absurd strawman. The oil tycoon almost certainly uses quite a bit of their own product.

I realize that many systems are stacked against us, and that it's difficult for "normal people" to effect change on an individual level. However, that also doesn't absolve us of personal responsibility for our choices and actions. You can make changes to meaningfully decrease your own carbon impact, and yes that does matter, even if only a small minority of folks do it.

Over the past year, I've seen an awful lot of folks on the left use this nihilist argument as an excuse to justify and number of selfish/destructive behaviors, and it absolutely drives me up a wall.

Like.... sure, you probably don't need to stress about flying a couple of times per year, or micro-optimizing every single one of your behaviors for the most moral outcomes. But "we live in a capitalist hellscape, so I might as well buy that SUV or go on a mileage run, because everybody else is doing it" is a bullshit excuse.
posted by schmod at 3:33 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]

Aviation produces the same amount of greenhouse gas as landfills. I'd rather they banned landfills, which would also reduce emissions in other areas, as there would have to be reductions in production of packaging etc. Stopping deforestation and crop burning would save 2.5 times as much as banning aviation. We all point to specific things that we don't have or want but others do as the source of climate change, but the reality is no one thing can solve the climate emergency.

What needs to happen is that every single person reduces their environmental footprint by a bit, proportional to their overall impact. A reduction of, say, 10% for the average person really wouldn't hurt each person much at all, but a world-wide 10% reduction would be amazing. What does the future hold if we continue to be too stupid to get out of our own way? The Ministry for the Future tells us one possible future (MeFi link). Every day we continue to idolise and praise those who spend our future with abandon, every day we collectively put the desires of corporate 'people' ahead of the needs of actual humans and other animals is a day closer to Earth deciding it's had enough and removing us so the planet can heal.
posted by dg at 8:18 PM on August 1

Yes, technically everyone does need to reduce their environmental impact, but it's also true that focusing on individual impact, while something that is worth people thinking about and taking actions on that are consistent with their values, is not going to solve the problem.

The solution to carbon emissions is really quite simple, in one sense: leave it in the ground, so it's not there to be emitted in the first place. The hard part isn't figuring out how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it's finding the political will for people to accept the very real sacrifices that dramatically restricting the extraction of fossil carbon entails.

If we were to somehow manage to globally enforce a hard cap on fossil carbon extraction, the price of fossil fuels would skyrocket, making wasteful uses like private jets less viable. Focusing on restricting the supply of fossil fuels to safer levels renders most questions about emissions moot. Of course, any implementation would still need to be done carefully to ensure that the people most in need of fossil fuels for heating, cooling, and other basic necessities during a transition to renewable energy sources would still be able to access a reasonable ration at affordable prices, and to ensure that wealthy bad actors can't game the system. But in general I'm convinced that the necessary regulations for saving our atmosphere are much easier to implement on the supply/extraction side, rather than on the demand/emissions side. It doesn't catch everything (mainly emissions from non-fossil-fuel sources like deforestation and agricultural land use) but I think it's still the right approach. And it would immediately render worrying about one's personal "carbon footprint" completely moot. The downside, though, is that it means directly tackling the powerful fossil fuel extractors, which means it's effectively impossible right now. But maybe if enough people catch on to the idea that to save the climate, all we need to do is "leave it in the ground," maybe that could change.
posted by biogeo at 9:45 PM on August 1 [4 favorites]

If we were to somehow manage to globally enforce a hard cap on fossil carbon extraction, the price of fossil fuels would skyrocket, making wasteful uses like private jets less viable.
I think there's a lot of merit in this idea, at least theoretically. If you can't get the fuel, you can't burn it.

it's a serious flaw, though, to think about the use of private jets or anything similar to have any viability challenges regardless of the cost of fuel. The people that own and use these have so much money that they could afford to pay many times what they cost now without blinking. Also, they have the power to make sure they get that scarce fuel and don't give a shit if that means poor people freeze to death.
posted by dg at 11:19 PM on August 1

That’s why the second half of capping extraction is rebating the auction price per capita. The rich pay out their sculpted noses and everyone else shares the money.
posted by clew at 12:18 AM on August 2 [1 favorite]

I mean, it's great that I'd be sitting on a pile of money while they monopolize the fuel I would need access to in order to do things like see my family ever again, I guess.
posted by Dysk at 3:25 PM on August 2

I mean, you get the price of four tons CO2 release, or whatever our annual share is. You get either the money or the tons.
posted by clew at 9:17 PM on August 2

Yes, and I'd still be priced out of access to fuel, which means still no flying, which means not seeing my family again.

I don't want the money, it's no good to me if it can't be used to buy the things that is actually matter to me in life.

Besides, we should be redistributively teaching the billionaires anyway, and then solving the problems of just distribution of resources rather than just giving up and letting the rich abuse their position of power to make sure they get it all.
posted by Dysk at 11:18 PM on August 2

The money you get in a rebate system is literally the price of fuel. Either your share of the money or your share of the fuel. This would be as redistributive as any revolution.

So, for any of us using more than an equal share of fossil fuel now, it would be a pain. But people worse off than we are would be better off.
posted by clew at 11:35 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]

"The price of fuel" is a nonsense if there isn't any because it's all been bought.

If you're proposing a ration system, that makes more sense, but that is not how I understand the term "auction" or "rebate auction".
posted by Dysk at 10:07 AM on August 3

(Because "the price of fuel" is a nonsense when the plutocrats have bought the entire supply and aren't selling.)
posted by Dysk at 10:14 AM on August 3

Yes, you’re missing the direct link between billionaires spending $X on fuel and that $X being divided up and rebated to everybody. It would come out the same economically if each year’s allowable oil was divided up evenly and delivered to each person to use or sell as they preferred. So, if you wanted to use your share, you could just do that instead of selling it to a billionaire.
posted by clew at 10:37 AM on August 3 [1 favorite]

Except if Elon Musk buys all the oil for eight billion dollars, what am I going to do with my dollar given to me after the fact? Hell, if it's a conglomerate of all the rich people in the world and they pay eight trillion, what am I going to do with my thousand dollars when there is no more fuel for sale?
posted by Dysk at 12:57 PM on August 3

Like, it might come out the same economically but I'm interested in still having access to fuel, not my financial situation.
posted by Dysk at 12:58 PM on August 3

This seems like an unusually arcane set of theoretical circumstances to be worried about.
posted by aramaic at 2:13 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]

The point of raising the price of carbon fuels is not to prevent everyone from traveling, but to make alternatives more economical. Presumably you aren't actually interested in fuel itself, but in being able to travel, which can be achieved in far less carbon-intensive ways (this will require some significant investments in public infrastructure at the same time).

Intercontinental travel will be a tougher nut to crack though.
posted by ssg at 4:59 PM on August 3

Intercontinental travel will be a tougher nut to crack though.

This is specifically the kind of travel I am talking about, yes.
posted by Dysk at 9:56 PM on August 3

But we have to cap fossil fuel use - pretty soon, too. That’s what makes fast far travel expensive. If you don’t dividend the fuel, the billionaires still buy it all it you don’t get any money out of it.

It’s vanishingly unlikely that we’ll cap extraction, but dividends actually do have political support, plus they are redistributive.
posted by clew at 11:33 PM on August 3

Intercontinental travel will be a tougher nut to crack though.

This is specifically the kind of travel I am talking about, yes.

In the USA at least, I can't help but feel we should be going for lower-hanging fruit, because our sustainable transit options are shit. I like in Louisville, KY. I would like to occasionally visit Chicago, IL. These are two major cities along a pretty major transportation axis which includes other major cities (Indianapolis, likely Nashville and Minneapolis for the most obvious extensions of such a route). There are plenty of rails already, albeit used almost entirely for cargo. Getting between these two cities in a civilized low-carbon way is a nightmare. Driving or flying are straight-up the only way to do it in a timely or reliable fashion. Buses exist, and they're better than they were, but they're considerably slower than a passenger car.

And these two cities aren't particularly notable in being poorly connected. In America, unless you're going up the east coast (notably the DC-NY route, which actually has decent passenger service), or the west coast (in the LA-SD SoCal corridor, or in the Bay Area to Sacramento, although frustratingly not so much from the one to the other), passenger trains range from "nonexistent" to "not actually much better than a bus" for most routes. Better rails, higher speed trains, and more frequency would help. Probably public subsidies to keep customer costs down. Basically, building our intercity rail up to the standard of most of Europe would do a lot to reduce the all-too-common impulse that a car or a plane is really the only way to get from one place to another.

Intercontinental is hard since, unless you add a lot more refueling stations in places where there is not really the infrastructure for handling intercontinental flights, you're essentially dealing with rocket-equation-like problems in that you need really, really high energy densities to make the weight of the fuel necessary to propel an aircraft work at all. It seems like highly refined fossil fuels and nuclear fuels are the only things out there with an encouraging energy/weight ratio, and people are oddly reluctant to put nuclear reactors into civilian passenger vehicles.
posted by jackbishop at 8:12 AM on August 7

Yes, high speed rail is the obvious solution for anything that doesn't involve crossing an ocean. Even NY-LA is entirely doable, possibly as a sleeper for those who are willing to pay for it (how pleasant would that be?).

I suspect intercontinental flights will continue to use liquid fuels. This may be the only real use case for the carbon air capture to synfuels technology that is being developed. No doubt this will be expensive because it is very energy intensive.
posted by ssg at 11:26 AM on August 7

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